Top of the Agenda: Fighting Ruptures Syrian Cease-Fire
Fighting erupted in a Damascus suburb and an army base in northern Syria on Friday, killing eight (AlArabiya) and rupturing a cease-fire brokered by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and agreed to on Thursday night by the Syrian military. The army said it would hold fire for the four days of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha beginning Friday morning, although the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said clashes began (BBC) late morning at a military base near the main road between Damascus and Aleppo. If implemented, the truce would mark the first pause of violence since April in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that has killed more than 32,000 people.
"Previous cease-fire agreements have been violated by both sides, and neither appears ready to stop a fight both believe is their best way forward. The absence of any external monitoring personnel or established protocols for disengagement, much less any enforcement mechanism, is a clear sign that the Eid al-Adha truce plan is largely an effort to have the combatants make a symbolic commitment to the idea of a future political settlement," writes Tony Karon for Time.
"Cease-fires are always a fragile arrangement. So much can go wrong that some last barely beyond the announcement, and others produce a spike of bloodshed as they end. The agreement of a four-day cessation of violence in Syria's increasingly savage civil war must therefore be a matter for prudence. But it is a considerable achievement for the United Nations envoy, nonetheless. Lakhdar Brahimi has managed to secure tentative agreement where both Arab League observers and the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, made no progress," writes an editorial for the Independent.
"Amid skepticism and doubts that this cease-fire will hold, people were trying to resume daily rituals. But by midday sounds of loud explosions were heard on the outskirts of Damascus. A cloud of black smoke was seen over the southern side of the suburbs. It is unclear whether this obvious breach means an end to the truce," writes Lina Sinjab for the BBC.
China Blocks New York Times After Report on Wen's Wealth
China's foreign ministry banned the New York Times website and accused the paper of smearing the country in response its story (Guardian) that premier Wen Jiabao's family has assets worth at least $2.7 billion. Separately, disgraced politician Bo Xilai was formally expelled from the top legislature, stripping the ex-Chongqing leader of immunity from prosecution.
JAPAN: America's top diplomat on Asia expressed frustration (Reuters)with Japan's political volatility, saying frequent changes of top officials undermined trust between the allies.
This CFR blog post discusses how Japan's next election will be won.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
More Than Thirty Die in Afghanistan Suicide Attack
A suicide bomber killed as many as thirty-seven people on Friday at a northern mosque (Telegraph) on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. While Faryab province has been relatively peaceful, a former senior Taliban commander who had defected to the government side was killed in the region on Wednesday.
MYANMAR: The death toll from recent ethnic violence in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine has surpassed 100 (AP) as clashes between Buddhists and Muslims escalate and challenge the country's democratic transition.
Netanyahu and Lieberman Join Forces on Israeli Ballot
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced the unification of their Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu parties (Haaretz), rejecting claims that the move was motivated by the threat of a rising center-left bloc.
Sudan to Report Israel to UN
Sudan's United Nations envoy urged the Security Council to condemn Israel (RFE/RL) for allegedly violating its airspace and attacking a military arms factory in Khartoum on Tuesday, saying Israel had violated Sudanese airspace three times in recent years.
UGANDA: Uganda threatened to withdraw its troops (AfricaReview) from Somalia after a UN report accused it of backing the M23 rebels fighting the Democratic Republic of Congo government. Uganda supplies the largest number of troops to the African Union mission, which has been battling the Islamist militants.
Russia Accuses U.S. of Arming Syrian Rebels
Russia accused the United States on Thursday of arranging deliveries (AlArabiya) of arms to Syrian rebels, a charge that State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland promptly denied.
Dimitri Simes discusses why Russia won't yield on Syria in this CFR interview.
BELGIUM: Belgian prosecutors are investigating the murder of an Exxon-Mobil executive, who was shot dead (WSJ) in front of his wife after leaving a restaurant in Brussels on Friday.
Cubans Allow Emigrants Back
Cuba said Thursday it will welcome back tens of thousands of its citizens who left illegally, marking a move toward migration reform (MiamiHerald) it claims will help normalize relations with Cubans abroad. Havana barred the return of rafters since its 1994 migration accord with the U.S. government.
LATIN AMERICA: The Organization of American States special envoy said on Thursday that Mercosur and Unasur "needed" Paraguay (MercoPress), and that the suspension of the country from the two organizations wasbased on other national interests.
An analysis by the Energy Department shows that consumption from wind power rose 27 percent in 2011 (TheHill), a larger percentage than any other domestic energy source. During the presidential campaign, talking points on energy policy have covered a wind energy tax credit as well as swing state jobs supported by the wind industry.